How VPNs Can Affect SEO
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VPN services have grown in popularity, especially in the last year or so. The rollback of net neutrality rules, and the gutting of FCC consumer protections have resulted in an increased interest by ordinary Internet users in increasing their security and privacy online. This clear trend of increasing use of VPN services presents several potential issues for web administrators and their SEO efforts.
We’ll dig into exactly how VPNs affect SEO activities in this article. And if you’re looking for a VPN to use, check out the reviews at bestvpn24.com.
How VPNs Work for Users
When a user signs up for a VPN service, they usually pay a subscription fee, and gain a username and password. They download a client or app for their chosen device(s) and operating system(s). Then, with the client or app running, they connect to a VPN server of their choice, in the location of their choice. Most VPN providers have hundreds or thousands of servers spread throughout many countries around the globe. VPN users are free to choose and switch servers as often as desired.
The benefits to users primarily stem from security, privacy, and relative anonymity. First, the traffic between the user and the VPN server is encrypted and sent via a secure tunnel. This means that government and ISP monitors cannot determine what is being sent, or the ultimate endpoint of the data. At the same time, the VPN server decrypts and then re-broadcasts the traffic to the desired destination. The destination server only sees the IP address from the VPN server’s pool – not the true IP address of the user. Finally, by accessing different VPN servers in different geographic locations, users can bypass geo-restrictions on content. This potent combination of security, privacy, anonymity, and added access, at affordable prices, is a powerful draw for many users.
Impact – Google Analytics
Impact – Local Search Results
Local search results are another matter. For websites that offer localized services, search results, “nearby” or “near me” listings, or anything else that is based on a user’s location, the use of a VPN will definitely have an impact. Because most location-specific data is derived from a user’s IP address, through the process of geo-location, the IP address matters a great deal for local results. However, with a VPN service, the users are getting an IP address that is shared, and issued by the pool associated with the VPN server they are connecting through. It will geo-locate to wherever their VPN server is located, which can be another region or even another country. This aspect of VPN use may hurt overall site experience for users, and the accuracy of geo-located results.
Impact – Geographic Statistics and Unique IPs
Various site and platform-specific statistics packages are available, and often provided by web hosting companies or do-it-yourself web design firms, to allow web administrators to track geographic statistics, unique IP/page view information, session data, bounce rates, and so forth. While they may not be as dynamic or detailed as Google Analytics, many web administrators rely on this data to shape their content, and for their SEO efforts as well. While page views and related elements will still be logged, users visiting your site from behind a VPN will have a negative impact on geographic statistics and unique IP statistics. The geographic problem comes from the same issues presented in “Local Search Results” above.
Similarly, the unique IP problem stems from the fact that VPN servers recycle IPs, and use a shared pool, meaning the same IP could belong to 2, 10, even hundreds of different visitors to your site. This means your numbers for unique visitors or unique IPs will be artificially reduced – on an ever-increasing scale. This is a moderate problem, though is overcome with tracking cookies, Google Analytics, and similar mechanisms.
Impact – Site Load Times/Speed
Site load time and access speed can also take a hit with VPNs. Because of the encryption and decryption process, a great deal of communication overhead and processing time is involved in the traffic from a user to a VPN and on to your web server. Latency/ping time goes up, in some cases dramatically, and maximum download/upload speed goes down, also sometimes dramatically. This varies a lot by VPN, with the better providers only impacting latency by 20-30 ms additional time (virtually undetectable to most users), and only a 10-20% decrease in max download speed. Lower-quality VPN providers can add 60 ms or more to latency, and hit max download speed by 90% or more, which is most definitely noticeable.
The end result is that users accessing your site from poorer quality VPNs might see unreasonably high load times or slow load and navigation speeds, increasing bounce rate, and decreasing your SEO rankings accordingly. However, this is a relatively minor consideration overall, as it is unlikely most VPN users will continue to use a service that slows normal web browsing to a crawl. If you have a very media-rich site, with lots of video streaming and so forth, it might be more of an issue for you in particular. But for average website administrators, this is a problem that tends to sort itself out, between the user and their VPN provider of choice.
The bottom line is that the impact of VPN use on SEO and web analytics is minimal at this time. There are some trade-offs in the area of geographic statistics and local search results, as well as site load times, but they, too, are fairly minor – there are viable alternatives available for web administrators that are not affected by VPN use. Users gain far more in security and privacy through using a VPN than web administrators may lose on the SEO side, at least under the current generation of VPNs and technologies that are available.
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